Saturday, January 2, 2016

Santa Barbara Doctor Sentenced After Trial to over 25 Years in Federal Prison for Writing Prescriptions for Schedule II Narcotics

The war on prescription drug abuse and the physicians who were prescribing to pain management patients continues. Long sentences are being handed out and the most recent case is no exception. 

On December 7, 2015, a Santa Barbara-area physician Julio Gabriel Diaz who wrote numerous prescriptions for Schedule II drugs was sentenced to a very long sentence of 327 months (essentially a life sentence) in federal prison by United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney. The sentence will be appealed according to his appointed attorney.

Former physician Diaz was found guilty by a jury after a 2½-week trial in August of 79 counts of distribution of a controlled substance. The government produced evidence at trial that the prescriptions were outside of the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. Dr. Diaz was not charged with any patient deaths but evidenced was introduced that many patients were drug addicts and some died from drug overdoses.

Dr. Diaz was profiled, along with other physicians, in a Los Angeles Times profile on physicians overprescribing narcotics. The prosecutions of these physicians became politicized. Dr. Diaz was arrested in 2012 with the Medical Board action against his license after his arrest. 

Twenty-six of the charges relate to oxycodone (a drug often sold under the brand name OxyContin), 10 of the charges relate to methadone, seven of the counts relate to hydromorphone (a drug commonly sold under the brand name Dilaudid), 10 of the charges relate to fentanyl, 11 of the charges relate to hydrocodone (a drug often sold under the brand names Vicodin and Norco), 10 of the charges relate to alprazolam (a drug often sold under brand name Xanax), and five of the charges related to the distribution of various controlled substances to a minor.

While the patients who seek pain drugs for proper purposes, improper purposes or are dependent on these drugs in any way, physicians will need to comply with pain management guidelines and document any prescriptions for Schedule II and III drugs with great care. In addition, any prescriptions will need to be mindful of any red flags, and be thorough in screening and follow up, as well as referrals to specialists. 

It will be more difficult for those in pain to obtain medication and to obtain refills and physicians are under a great deal of pressure. Compliance is key here since even a couple of prescriptions in the wrong hands can cause serious problems for the prescribing physician. When physician clients have us review their forms and procedures for handling prescribing of scheduled pain medications, it helps give them a defense that they are following best practices and are seeking to ensure their prescriptions are for a legitimate medical purpose.

Posted by Tracy Green, Esq.
Office: 213-233-2261


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